#RPGaDay2015: 8 – Community Gets Roleplaying Right

When I was a kid, it was a really big deal that D&D showed up in E.T. I’m sure there were other instances that I’m forgetting or never even knew about, but off the top of my head the next time D&D had a positive mention in pop culture was Freaks and Geeks, 17 years later, and Buffy a couple years after that. In between, NewsRadio dropped D&D references all the time (though not quite as much as Star Wars references), but they were always in a disparaging context.

But these days, it seems like RPGs are referenced all over the place, and not always as the butt of a joke. On top of that, sometimes the references to them, or portrayals of them (almost always D&D) are actually somewhat accurate. Oh, sure, exaggerated for comedic or, less often, dramatic effect, but they are clearly coming from people who actually have some clue what they’re talking about, and might even have fond memories of roleplaying. And while he deliberately distorts things to boost his jokes, it’s very clear that Stephen Colbert knows of what he speaks.

Nonetheless, while other depictions have been closer on the details, I think the depiction of RPGs in the media that comes the closest to actually capturing the essence of roleplaying is the episode of Community where they play an RPG that they call “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”. Oh, sure, just about all the rules are wrong, and there’s the over-the-top rivalry plot around Chevy Chase’s character. But the core essence—that it’s about people getting together to have fun telling a collaborative story, that there are rules, and that it is fundamentally a cooperative venture—was accurately shown. It was the first time since Freaks and Geeks where I felt that if that were the only thing someone knew about RPGs, that would be ok—they would understand the key elements, and understand why we play.

How I Met Your Spoilers

Seriously, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched the last episode of How I Met Your Mother, and have any intention of watching the show, just skip this post. Or, better yet, go watch the show and then come back. 

Yes, the whole show. Oh, sure, there were some bad episodes, and season 7 as a whole is a bit weak—but how many shows make it 9 years without a few duds? And, in the context of the rest of the show, season 7 is still better than most seasons of most shows—you usually have to go to serious drama to do better than that. I’ll still be here in 76 hours. 

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Eight Deadly Words without five deadly words?

I’m now 14.25 episodes into Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and I realized both why I’m watching and why I’m not telling anyone else to watch.

I don’t care what happens to these people

But here’s the funny thing: I do care what happens.
I want to know where the plot leads, and I really want to know the answers to the many mysteries and questions.

spoilers!

I want to know who the blue torso is and what that tells us about “Tahiti”. I want to know what Tahiti stands for. I want to know if Skye has superpowers. But not to see how she or anyone else reacts–I’m just curious about the powers. I want to know if the Clairvoyant really is–and if he’s a character from the comics. I want to know whether the secret groups that seem to be working for SHIELD really are. And so on. I want know why Coulson is so special–or that he actually isn’t.

But this is all about the plot, the world-building, the mystery. Put completely different characters in there, and it really wouldn’t make a difference. Well, I might like or dislike them, and thus care, but I wouldn’t care that these characters were gone.

And I’m not sure where to put the blame. I’ve enjoyed some of these actors elsewhere. I’ve liked everything else Whedon has written. I’m interested in the world. And as I said, I like the storylines. We even have good ongoing development of both the plot and the characters. I just don’t care about those characters.

How Not to Take Over the World

The Evil Mastermind has at his disposal:
1: A guy who can generate winds sufficiently powerful to smash his way into Tony Stark’s Vault of Dangerous Top Secret Things™.
2: A radiation source capable of melting a battleship in a matter of seconds, through a mile or so of water.
3: A cosmic space dragon.
4: A super-genius, who in turn controls:
5: “Titanium Man”, an unstoppable force of destruction.

So, what’s his clever plan to Conquer the World, BWAHAHAHAH!!! ? Continue reading

Story vs. Story Arc

I think I’m becoming disenchanted by Doctor Who–still love it, particularly the individual stories, but the story arcs are starting to be more annoying than wonderful. Which is very surprising to me. Either I want what I can’t have, or it is possible to have too much of a good thing. When I was a kid, the thing that most disappointed me about Star Trek: The Next Generation (and any number of other shows) was the lack of development—the way that the characters and setting didn’t seem to change nearly as much as episode events seemed to warrant. Sure, solving the problem of the week was interesting, but it just left me feeling unfulfilled. Ongoing development of the story and the characters is what made me love Blake’s 7 so much. Continue reading

Essential Doctor Who

A couple years ago, some of my friends were loving the new Doctor Who series, and curious about the classic series. I loved the idea of having an excuse to watch it again, but when they found out just how much of it there is, they were more than a little daunted. Plus, honestly, a lot of the stories just don’t stand up to a modern audience. So, I put together this guide for them, highlighting what I  feel are the best and most-essential stories from the original 26-year run.

In order to keep it down to a manageable list, a lot of very good stories were left off the list–if you look around at reviews, you’ll find a lot of good, even great, stories that aren’t on this list. I was also trying to cover as much as I could of the mythology and universe of Doctor Who in as few stories as possible, and with as little duplication as possible. So in a few cases, a really great story was left out only because all of the territory it covered was already covered in some other story or combination of stories. So, for example, there are some other good cybermen stories–but they don’t really add anything to the overall canon of the series.
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Vigilante =/= Mutant

Smallville is this season very transparently stealing the mutant registration act storyline from the various X-Men comics. I’m impressed at how many ways it doesn’t work. For starters, it just doesn’t fit the tone of the series or the universe, IMHO. But that might just be me; the other problems are more significant.

The Mutant registration act was, of course, an allegory of the Holocaust, and various other historical–and current–attempts to scapegoat a group of people. As such, the allegory required that the victims be blameless, at least as a group. In the Marvel universe, nobody chooses to be a mutant. Thus, condemning them for that status, irrespective of their behavior, is what makes the allegory work. Vigilante is a behavior–a profession, i suppose–and something that the characters clearly chose. So the “Vigilante Registration Act” is not immorally condemning them for an accident of their birth, or even for their beliefs, but for their actions. It’s like the writers completely missed the allegory of the mutant registration act, so when they went to copy it, they copied the superficial details, but changed the one bit that gave it moral weight.

On top of that, they chose as their “persecuted group” those who made a set of decisions and behaviors that is pretty morally gray. Which could possibly work–you could explore some really complex questions, and Smallville has at least taken stabs at them in the past–except that they’re not examining the morality. They’ve simply replaced “mutant” with “vigilante” wherever it appears in the script, and written the stories as though “vigilante” is inherently and obviously good. Our heroes are the good guys because they’re the good guys. Which, I suppose, takes us back to the origins of Superman. :-/

What’s worse is that Smallville has flirted with these themes in the past–in fact, for the majority of the run–and done it much better. So a heavy-handed attempt at cloning a popular theme from the rivals is even more insulting, since we’ve seen them much-less-clumsily tackle this same theme on the show already. The persecution and ostracization of “meteor freaks”, most obviously. But for a couple of seasons, at least, they’ve toyed with the question of “alien invasion” or how the populace would react to knowing Clark is an alien. They’ve tread this ground before, posed some great questions, answering some of them and letting us mull over the others. This new plot arc wouldn’t be doing anything new or interesting even if it were doing it right–which it’s not.